The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
A deliciously fun and macabre treat for horror fans.
The synopsis alone is enough to bring on cold sweats and sleepless nights, but luckily Tom Six's grisly-sounding flick is actually a deliciously fun and macabre treat for horror fans.
Try and imagine being one in a chain of people, stitched mouth to anus. That's the charming image Dutch-born Six sears onto the viewer's retinas with words alone, but the resulting film thankfully relies on our imagination to do most of the work - a method used perfectly well in the likes of Seven and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The idea came from a jokey punishment Six would suggest for paedophiles, but instead of nasty child molesters, our victims are a Japanese playboy and two innocent American tourists who happen to cross a demented surgeon's path.
It's hard to imagine The Human Centipede working without its incredible leading man, Dieter Laser, a German actor with a face built for terror, and a voice that could chill the dead. His Dr Heiter is more than just a misanthrope, adopting the clinical determination of Nazi war criminals. His remote country home holds striking artwork based on his career as a leading expert on separating conjoined twins. However, the pride in his life's work isn't from performing miracles, as Heiter's only wish is to perfect the opposite - a chain of creatures that share a single digestive system.
The inhumanity of Heiter is more disturbing than anything seen on the operating table. When he calmly informs the trio what is in store for them - using an overhead projector - it's with the exasperation of a school teacher, rather than a twisted butcher. That's not to say he isn't tickled pink by his victim's terrified plight, but sees it as a necessary part of his research. The subsequent operation will cause a few flinches, but is over very quickly - Six doesn't believe in salacious lingering.
Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie have been touted as brave for taking on such a twisted role after several actresses balked, but the most remarkable thing is that this is one of the few modern-day horrors where women aren't exploited. Lindsay and Jenny are just two fun girls travelling around Europe, and when they end up in their unfortunate predicament, it's tastefully done. All the victims are shown in nappy-style bandages post-operation, and the girls are topless for realistic reasons - Heiter couldn't care less about their feelings - but Six films this with as much modesty as the action allows. Nothing is sexual, and there isn't an ounce of misogyny, compared with 99% of horrors - or most movies for that matter.
Williams and Yennie are heartbreaking in this physical role. They convey everything we are forced to feel through their eyes alone, and their desperate, silent comforting of each other lingers long after the film finishes and will be remembered more than the surgery. As the front section of the centipede, Akihiro Kitamura darkly brings the laughter as the only one left able to speak - he doesn't know English.
Six was clearly influenced by gross-out Asian horror and David Cronenberg's body shockers, but, except for the idea alone, hasn't raised the bar. Instead, The Human Centipede comes recommended for its fascinating villain, remarkable sensitivity, and for its morbid humour.